Rat of Tobruk William Corey dies at 101

Tim Dornin

He survived the siege of Tobruk and campaigns at El Alamein and in Papua New Guinea during World War II but now Bill Corey, one of the last Rats of Tobruk, has died in Adelaide aged 101.

Mr Corey's passing was announced by the RSL on Wednesday, with South Australian Premier Steven Marshall saying he typified the selflessness of nation's diggers.

Mr Corey enlisted in 1940 aged 22, becoming one of the original members of the 2nd/43rd battalion.

In 1941 in the Libyan port of Tobruk, the then private was among the estimated 14,000 Australian soldiers besieged by German-Italian forces commanded by General Erwin Rommel.

The Australians gave themselves the nickname the Rats of Tobruk after Radio Berlin described the garrison's defenders as "caught like rats in a trap".

Writing about his service, Mr Corey talked about dealing with dust storms, the lack of water and the constant danger of land mines.

"Land mines were everywhere and it's a wonder there were not a lot more casualties," he wrote.

"I found myself in amongst them twice and I can tell you I was glad to get out."

He said the lack of air support for the allied forces also meant the German forces could bomb at will.

"I believe we had about 1100 air raids, these could be one or I think the biggest was about 150," he said.

"I remember plainly the Tobruk area wasn't very big and the whole sky seemed to be filled with planes in batches of three. They did a blanket bombing."

Mr Marshall said Australians owed Mr Corey and his fellow servicemen and women a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made.

"So that future generations could enjoy the freedom and way of life we have today," the premier said.

"Bill Corey typified the humble nature and selflessness of our diggers and was very generous with his time in speaking with members of his community and many school children about the Anzac legacy."